Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

Research Specification - PRP (39-01-02) Evaluation of the School Fruit and Veg Scheme

Contents

Published: 14 May 2024

Version: 1.0 May 2024

Print this document

Timetable and Budget

DescriptionDeadline/Limit
Deadline for Stage 1 Applications 18 June 2024, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of Stage 1 Application September 2024
Deadline for Stage 2 application 22 October 2024, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of Stage 2 Application February-March 2025
Earliest Potential Project Start March 2025
Project Duration 36 Months
Budget £650,000 per project

Introduction

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications for a single research project to evaluate the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme. The project should examine:

  • the contribution that the SFVS makes to children’s diets, and the impact on longer term consumption of fruit and vegetables;
  • how the scheme is delivered in schools and opportunities to improve it; and
  • the value for money of the SFVS.

Background

The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) is a national scheme in England which provides one free portion of either fruit or vegetable every school day to children in Reception and Key Stage 1 at state-funded primary schools [1]. The SFVS was piloted in 2004 and has been running nationally in its current form since 2006. The SFVS currently operates in just over 16,000 schools in England (over 95% of all schools eligible to join the scheme), and provides around 420 million portions of produce each year to 2.2 million children. While initially it provided a broader range of produce, in recent years cost considerations have meant that a limited range of eight different types of fruit and vegetables is now offered. It was initially funded only by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), but since 2015 has been jointly funded by DHSC and the Department for Education (DfE).

The SFVS is procured and run by DHSC. It sits apart from other food provided in schools, which is procured and delivered by either local authorities or schools themselves. The cost of the SFVS has risen in recent years, driven mainly by high food inflation. It is estimated that it will cost around £50 million in 2024/25.

The SFVS has two policy objectives:

  • To provide one portion of fruit or vegetable per school day to children in Reception and Key Stage 1 at state-funded primary schools, to support the adequate nutrition and fruit and vegetable intake of these children; and
  • To help to promote longer-term healthier eating habits by “normalising” the regular consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Schools are not required to report any information about their use of the SFVS, and whether SFVS produce is eaten by the children for whom it was intended. It is very difficult to use data from national surveys such as the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, the Health Survey for England, or other national datasets such as the National Child Measurement Programme, to draw robust conclusions about the SFVS. Schemes operating in Europe are insufficiently similar to generate relevant evidence for the scheme in England. All this means that very little is currently known about whether the SFVS is meeting its policy aims.

In addition, there have been major changes in the school food landscape since the SFVS was first introduced. Since 2014, school food must now be provided in accordance with the compulsory School Food Standards [2]. Since 2014, the age group covered by the SFVS has been entitled to a free school lunch under the Universal Infant Free School Meals Programme. More recently, there has been a greater spread of provision of free breakfasts in schools, and other initiatives such as the Holiday Activities with Food Programme.

The SFVS was evaluated in 2005, 2007, and finally in 2010. While not wholly conclusive, the 2010 final evaluation of the scheme [3] suggested that the SFVS may have led to an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption during the time when the children received it, but it was difficult to disentangle any “SFVS effect” from other school food improvements. It also did not appear that increased consumption carried over into the home environment, or that increased fruit and vegetable consumption was sustained when children no longer benefited from the SFVS. The SFVS has not been evaluated since 2010 and therefore we do not know how the scheme is operating alongside the changes in the school food environment introduced in 2014.

DHSC therefore wishes to evaluate the SFVS to establish whether it is meeting its objectives. Against the background of rising costs and improvements in other school food provision, the results of this evaluation will play a key role in policy decisions about how the SFVS might operate in the future.

Research priorities

Research is needed to evaluate whether the SFVS is meeting its original policy objectives and whether it offers value for money. The research priorities are:

  1. To establish the contribution that the SFVS makes to children’s diets, and the impact on longer term consumption of fruit and vegetables;
  2. To understand how the SFVS is delivered in schools and opportunities for improvement;
  3. To provide an estimate of the value for money of the SFVS.

These are set out in more detail below.

Contribution of the SFVS to daily fruit and vegetable intake

The research should provide evidence on the contribution the scheme makes to eligible children’s fruit and vegetable intake, comparing consumption on school and non-school days, and comparing children eligible for the scheme with those no longer eligible. The research should also consider how consumption patterns and any contribution of the SFVS might vary by socio-economic group.

Questions should include:

  • What contribution does the SFVS make to the average daily consumption of fruit and vegetables for those eligible and how does this differ on school and non-school days?
  • How does the average daily consumption of fruit and vegetables for children eligible for the scheme compare with those no longer eligible*?
  • Does the contribution made by the SFVS differ by age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic group?
  • What is the fruit and vegetable consumption for children outside of school, how are fruit and vegetables incorporated into children’s diets (for example as snacks or as part of a meal), and what barriers do families face in providing fruit and vegetables for children?
  • Are parents aware of their child’s fruit and vegetable consumption at school, and to what extent does this affect decisions about the home-based diet?

For fruit and vegetables consumed at school, we envisage that researchers will need to identify consumption from:

  • The SFVS
  • Attendance at a Breakfast Club and whether this is free/paid for
  • School lunches
  • Packed lunches
  • Attendance at an After-school Club and whether this free/paid for
  • Any other forms of provision at school.

* Children in Key Stage 2 no longer receive either the SFVS or Universal Infant Free School meals, although some of these children may continue to receive free school meals on the grounds of low income, or locally-funded arrangements for them to continue to receive a free school lunch and / or breakfast. Children in Key Stage 2 may also continue to receive free breakfast provision, again based on local arrangements.

Impact on longer term consumption of fruit and vegetables

DHSC would welcome researchers’ proposals on how to assess the longer-term impact of the SFVS on children’s actual consumption or willingness to consume fruit and vegetables at mealtimes or as snacks, recognising that children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables is shaped by (and may also shape) what they are offered in school and at home.

Understanding delivery of the SFVS

The research should collect evidence on how the SFVS is delivered within schools with particular attention to:

  • Tasks undertaken by school staff to receive, prepare and offer the scheme’s fruit and vegetables to children, including any practices undertaken to promote uptake and how successful they are;
  • Wider school activities aimed at encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption and how they are linked to the SFVS;
  • Levels of waste and any factors associated with this (e.g. popularity of different fruit and vegetables);
  • What happens to fruit and vegetables that are not consumed by the target group?

Views of school staff members on the strengths and limitations of the scheme should also be collected, particularly where this can identify:

  • Unforeseen benefits, negative consequences or outcomes and how these may vary for different groups or in different circumstances;
  • Opportunities to improve the scheme.

Value for money

The research should produce results which will help DHSC to make decisions about continued investment in the SFVS. Recognising that without a counterfactual a robust estimation of value for money is difficult to achieve, we nonetheless require researchers to deliver appropriate estimates. This might include a review of:

  • The extent to which the SFVS raises consumption of fruit and vegetables amongst the children eligible to receive it on school days in comparison to non-school days;
  • How this compares to fruit and vegetable consumption among children in Year 3 who are no longer eligible to receive the SFVS;
  • The cost of the scheme with reference to the two bullets above.

DHSC is looking at whether health benefits for fruit and vegetable consumption during childhood can be identified and incorporated into models for assessing interventions and, depending on timing, may be able to liaise with researchers regarding utilising findings from this research to assess cost-effectiveness.

Research approaches

We recognise the complexities associated with evaluating the impact of the SFVS. Challenges include collecting reliable dietary information from/about young children, parental awareness of fruit and vegetables consumed at school, isolating the contribution of the SFVS amongst other school food initiatives, and recruiting schools into the study.

We welcome innovative approaches and invite applicants to demonstrate their awareness of and plans to mitigate against these challenges. Some initial feasibility testing to identify suitable research methods may be appropriate.

Areas out of scope for this programme of work

While the research does require an examination of the role played by other school food provision such as universal infant free school meals, benefits-based free school meals and the provision of breakfast in schools, the specific evaluation of these other food interventions is outside the scope of this research.

Eligibility

Eligibility rules for the NIHR Policy Research Programme are explained in the Standard Information for Applicants and these apply to all calls unless otherwise stated in the individual research specification

Expertise required

Policy evaluation, child diet and nutrition, school foods.

Outputs

Applicants are asked to consider the timing and nature of deliverables in their proposals. Policymakers will need research evidence to meet key policy decisions and timescales, so resource needs to be flexible to meet these needs. A meeting to discuss policy needs with DHSC officials will be convened as a matter of priority following contracting.

Budget and duration

The maximum budget available for this call is £650,000. We expect the project to be complete within 36 months.

Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and commissioning committee members will assess applications against.

Management arrangements

A research advisory group including, but not limited to, representatives of DHSC, other relevant stakeholders, and the successful applicants for the research should be established. The advisory group will provide guidance, meeting regularly over the lifetime of the research. The successful applicants should be prepared to review research objectives with the advisory group, and to share emerging findings on an ongoing basis. They will be expected to:

  • Provide regular feedback on progress
  • Produce timely reports to the advisory group
  • Produce a final report for sign off

Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.

Guidance on Health and Care Inequalities and associated data collection within NIHR PRP Research:

Health and care Inequalities is a high priority area within the Department of Health and Social Care and the NIHR and is often present in a majority of funded projects. We are now assessing all NIHR research proposals in relation to health inequalities. We ask that you please clearly identify in the research plan section of the application whether your application has an inequalities component or theme as well as how this research hopes to impact inequalities or not. Please also detail the core set of inequality breakdown data that will be collected, if applicable. More information on this request can be found in the Standard information for applicants.

Improving Data Access Pilot

The NIHR are working together with the Data Access & Partnerships Team in NHS England (NHSE) to better align NHSE requirements for data access with NIHR commissioning processes.

This funding call will include a pilot to support researchers in making data access requests by identifying any potential issues and resource impact earlier in the process. If your research will require access to NHSE data, please find further details of the pilot on the Data Access Pilot Guidance Webpage.

References and key documents